Does your DMO have a TikTok account? If not, you may already be behind the curve. While most destinations have just started to wade into the waters of the popular platform, others have plunged right in with creative paid campaigns and on-trend organic content.
In just a few short years, TikTok has already attracted more than one billion active users. That puts it neck-and-neck with much more established apps like Instagram. And the buzz is clearly in TikTok’s corner — it was the most-downloaded app of 2021 with more than 650 million downloads (over that’s 100 million more than Instagram that year).
So what does that mean for DMOs? Here’s everything you need to know about why your destination needs to be on TikTok — and we promise you won’t even have to learn how to dance.
Why does your destination need a TikTok?
First things first — does any of this even matter? As a DMO, it can feel futile to try and keep up with the ever-evolving landscape of social media platforms. While many trends come and go quickly, TikTok has already made a huge, and potentially lasting, impact on the cultural landscape. And it’s especially making its mark on our industry — #travel has more than 100 billion views and counting.
Here’s why your destination definitely needs a TikTok account.
1. See your destination through your audience’s eyes
TikTok is basically an endless stream of user generated content. And all that content is an extraordinarily valuable resource to destination marketers.
These videos offer an unprecedented portal into the minds of your visitors. You’ll be able to see first-hand how they’re experiencing your destination — where they go, what they do, how they get around, where they stay, and more.
How is this different from social media behaviors of the past? Instead of a glossy highlight reel at the end of their trip (like you might see on Facebook or Instagram), TikTok users tend toward posting more frequent, unedited updates of their travels. That means on-the-fly, day-by-day coverage of their experience at your destination — the good and the bad.
And as you watch along, you’ll get insights into what they like, what they don’t like, along with their honest feedback and suggestions. You may even discover something new about your own destination, whether it’s an undiscovered asset or an unaddressed issue.
Having this type of candid insight into how your visitors experience your destination is a great foundation for creating future content and marketing materials — on and off TikTok.
2. Join the conversation and impact the narrative.
People are posting about your destination on TikTok — whether or not you’re there to see it. The only difference is if you’re a part of it. With an active TikTok account, you can stay on top of the conversation around your destination and even help shape the narrative.
Now that you know how people are talking about your destination on TikTok, you’ll have a better understanding of what perceptions need to be changed and how you can help shape the story around your market.
For instance, Visit Montana (which has more than 40k followers on their TikTok account) has been using the platform to help correct misconceptions about their destination. One of their recent videos begins with the headline “There’s nothing to do in Billings…” followed by a jam-packed montage of all the amazing attractions and activities there. And with more than 70k views, it’s outperformed many of the other videos on their channel.
@visitmontana 24 hours in Billings, MT. 🎥: @andyaustinphoto #montana #montanatok #billingsmt #24hours #travel ♬ You And Me – Lyus
3. Find users looking for travel inspo
Travelers are increasingly turning to social media to shape their travel decisions, whether it’s finding their next destination or finding a place to eat when they’re there. This is especially true of younger travelers — 60% of Gen Z and 40% of millennials use social media for travel inspiration, according to an April 2022 report.
TikTok specifically is becoming a huge resource of travel information and planning. Just a few years ago, users might have done a Google search when they were planning a trip. Today, 40% of Gen Z prefers searching on TikTok and Instagram over Google Search and Maps.
What does that all mean? If your DMO wants to be reaching your audience at all stages of their travel planning journey, you need to be on TikTok. Your videos can help impact users at crucial decision points, from deciding where they’ll go to how long they’ll stay and what they’ll do when they’re there.
4. Reach a super diverse group
TikTok has the reputation of being a haven for youths. But in reality, your DMO has the opportunity to reach a cross-generational audience, not just Gen Z (though they’re certainly there, if that’s your target audience).
The age breakdown of the app’s actual user base is surprisingly mixed — 42% of all TikTok users are aged 30-49. And when you’re talking about 42% of one billion users, you’re looking at a great opportunity for reaching multiple generations at once.
TikTok is also an excellent opportunity to tap into a diverse base of influencers and content creators. If your DMO has any type of equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts, this can be a meaningful way to add a more broad range of perspectives and voices to your marketing efforts.
Not sure where to start? TikTok’s creator marketplace can match your brand with influencers already popular on the platform. For instance, Orbitz used TikTok to partner with LGBTQIA+ creators on the platform to promote #TravelAsYouAre, an initiative focused on creating a world where everyone feels safe when traveling. The campaign reached 16.5 million users, with watch times well above benchmarks.
@vickto_willy Baecations hit different when you stop being scared to kiss your gf in public🥺 #fyp #Orbitz #TravelAsYouAre #girlfriend #ad #couple #foryou #trip ♬ You Don’t Own Me (Commercial) – serpentwithfeet
Quick tips for creating content on TikTok
Now that you’re convinced your DMO needs to be on TikTok, here are a few things to keep in mind as you start creating content.
1. Keep it rough around the edges
One way to make your videos feel more native to the platform: stay away from the professionally produced sizzle reels.
TikTok users aren’t looking for movie-studio-quality videos. The platform revolves around a more organic, unpolished style — anything too slick or commercial will feel inauthentic.
That means low-lift, low-budget videos (think something shot on your iPhone) are a great way to start building your channel. This also makes it easier to jump in and start testing the waters, so you can begin figuring out what works and doesn’t work for your audience.
One more thing to keep in mind: Today’s users are all too aware of the “Instagram vs. reality” phenomenon, especially when it comes to traveling. So if you’re only posting perfect, idealized versions of your destination, be prepared to get called out.
2. Stay on top of trends
Before you start creating content, you should take the time to familiarize yourself with the platform — the common formats, the language, and the humor. Scroll through popular hashtags related to travel, your market, and your destination to see what kind of content is already being made.
Most of all, keep an eye out for any trends that may work for your destination. Trends, whether it be a specific sound or video format, are a powerful way to amplify your content and increase your chance of capturing a viral moment.
For instance, South Dakota quickly jumped on a trending moment around corn to promote their Corn Palace. They then took it one step further, and created a mini sensation, when they invited the now TikTok-famous Tariq (better known as the “Corn Kid”) to visit as their official “Corn-bassador”. One of the posts currently has 7.2 million views — an astonishing reach for a 22 second video.
@southdakota He’s got the juice! 🌽 #itscorn #cornkid #recesstherapy ♬ original sound – Doing Things
Unfortunately, TikTok trends move at the speed of light. I could list some here, but by the time this blog is edited and published, users will already be on to the next ones.
So how do you capture lightning in the TikTok bottle? As much as possible, empower your social team to act quickly with a streamlined approval process and creative autonomy. That way, they’ll be able to make the most of trending moments before they’re old news.
3. Be mindful
TikTok is a powerful tool, with the potential to reach millions and millions of potential visitors. And that means even off-the-beaten-path destinations can become famous overnight.
A rapid influx of visitors can be a boon for destinations, but it can also bring overcrowding, negative environmental impacts, and angry residents — the hallmark effects of overtourism.
For example, the Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park in China was the subject of a TikTok video that touted the park’s gorgeous sunrises. The video took off, and the park’s monthly visitor count suddenly skyrocketed from 50 to 400-600. But the park’s management was unprepared for the influx, and problems began to arise that negatively impacted the visitor experience.
While not every post will cause a crush of visitors to flocks to your destination — if only it were that easy — you should make sure all stakeholders are prepared for whatever level of exposure your marketing efforts may bring.
For instance, if you have plans to promote a national park, make sure the rangers are aware and given the chance to develop potential contingency plans for parking, increased trash cans, etc.
4. Use keyword research
Google has long been the gold standard of SEM and SEO marketing, but TikTok’s unique algorithm is challenging Google’s dominant position. If you’re DMO already has a strong understanding of SEO in your website content, many of the same principles can be applied to creating relevant content for TikTok. Here are a few good places to start for keyword research
- Check out your top-performing blog posts and website content in Google Analytics, particularly ones that are raking in a lot of organic traffic. and note the keyword you’re using there.
- Use TikToks search function. Start by typing in your destination’s name and seeing what comes up. For instance, “Chicago” comes back with Chicago things to do, Chicago restaurants, and Chicago hidden gems — all great ideas for a video.
- Use TikTok’s Creative Center to see what hashtags are trending.
Once you have some keywords locked down, storyboard out some ideas that could help you target those same keywords in a video format. They don’t have to be perfect but they do need to be informative or entertaining. The Palm Beaches DMO does a great job of creating evergreen content that targets high-value search queries like “things in do in Florida”, alongside more timely and trendy content.
Ready to get started? So are we. Stay tuned for updates on our new TikTok campaigns with the Cincy region.